After Years of Organizing and Planning, Mon Valley Communities See Federal Funding Responding to Transit-Oriented Development Needs

Image Description: Ms. Debra Green holds the microphone at a downtown rally surrounded by people standing and sitting in wheelchairs with signs reading “BRT for the Mon Valley”, “No Cuts to 61A”, “Bus Lines are Lifelines.”

A new $565,500 grant to the Port Authority marks the next phase in residents’ successful campaign to extend the East Busway

Transit riders, residents, businesses, and elected officials in the Mon Valley have been working hard to extend the East Busway’s benefits into their communities. After years of organizing to uplift the demand for better transit, we are celebrating the recent Federal Transportation Administration’s $565,500 planning grant award to Port Authority, to evaluate the local development and transit ridership benefits of a busway extension into the communities of Braddock, North Braddock, and East Pittsburgh. This grant award is timely: the 2021 bipartisan federal infrastructure bill will make funding available to realize capital transportation investments, particularly those that will stimulate and revitalize underinvested communities.

Over the last several years, the boroughs of Braddock, East Pittsburgh, and North Braddock (BEN) collaborated on a shared comprehensive plan which centered the importance of an extended East Busway transit-priority corridor into the Mon Valley. During this planning process, these communities identified opportunities to support higher density, mixed income development, and critical amenities around potential new transit stations, in order to welcome new residents, support local businesses, and grow their municipal tax base. The BEN Communities have continued their collaboration through joint participation in the Allegheny Together Program, funded through Allegheny County to provide planning and technical assistance for greater reinvestment into walkable business districts and corridors.

At the same time, PPT hired 16 community leaders from the Mon Valley to survey nearly 600 residents on our Beyond the East Busway campaign to identify key destinations that should be better served by transit, and to make recommendations about which alignment of an East Busway extension would best meet transit rider needs. PPT organizing fellows surveyed a broad range of people living and working in the Mon Valley, including parents, single mothers, older adults, people with disabilities and students. The Port Authority’s decision to focus on this corridor in their long range NEXTransit Plan (Corridor E) and for this FTA planning grant reflects vocal transit rider advocacy and explicit support by the elected leadership in Rankin, Braddock, and East Pittsburgh in the grant application process.

This investment in planning is long overdue.

There is an extremely high and growing percentage of transit commuters in this region. In fact, four of the municipalities with the highest transit usage in all of Pennsylvania are within these corridors: #3 is Rankin (35.5%), #5 is East Pittsburgh (31.6%), #8 is Swissvale (24.9%), and #10 is Braddock (24.4%). In addition, five of the ten routes with the highest ridership increases for Port Authority from FY2019 to FY2020 were in the Mon Valley and Eastern Suburbs (P68 Braddock Hills Flyer, 52L Homeville Limited, 69 Trafford, P67 Monroeville Flyer and 55 Glassport), demonstrating that even during a pandemic, transit is a critical lifeline for riders of these routes. Despite this, transit access is poor for most of these communities: from Braddock to downtown, a bus trip averages 60 minutes even when using the high speed Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway. Due to cumbersome last-mile challenges, a passenger may spend 20 minutes using the busway, but must travel an additional 40 minutes before they enter the borough. A car trip, by contrast, takes 20 minutes from start to finish.

“With support from Allegheny County Economic Development, efforts are in place to revitalize Braddock Ave’s business district, which has always serviced multiple communities. Coupled with the Mon Metro Chamber of Commerce, this region of the Mon Valley is positioning itself for economic growth. A thoughtfully planned transportation system will function as a conduit to support all of our communities. This is our lifeline to jobs, business creation, and economic development,” says Tina Doose, founder and board chair of the Mon Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The FTA-supported Moving the Mon Valley project will specifically study the positive impacts of two potential busway extension scenarios, to provide a detailed understanding of how improved access to high-quality transit service will help Mon Valley communities achieve their equity, access, and economic development goals.  Recognizing, through this study, the transformative potential of public transportation is an important step along the way to building the high quality transit service the Mon Valley deserves. We look forward to supporting the Port Authority’s study by elevating the voices of Mon Valley riders and encouraging strong collaboration with community leaders and transit riders in Swissvale, Rankin, Braddock, North Braddock, East Pittsburgh, and beyond.

Join residents of the Mon Valley and Eastern Suburbs on March 28th, 6-7:30pm to plan the next steps in this campaign to win better service beyond the East Busway